Voices from the Beinecke Library

Legacy of Langston Hughes Lives Strong Fifty Years After His Death

Langston Hughes, February 1942

Monday, May 22, 2017, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Langston Hughes (1902-1967). His legacy lives strong in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, where the Langston Hughes Papers are the single most-consulted archive among the library's extensive holdings.

The Langston Hughes Papers include 305 linear feet of material (671 boxes), 11 broadside folders, and art storage. They were the gift of Hughes during his lifetime, beginning in the early 1940s, and the bequest of his estate. The Hughes Papers are in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, a key archive of African American history and culture, part of the Yale Collection of American Literature (YCAL).

The Langston Hughes Papers “constitute an already impressive memorial to all that he accomplished,” then YCAL Curator Donald Gallup wrote in a condolence letter on May 24, 1967, now in the archives, to Mr. and Mrs. Emerson and Toy Harper, old friends of his mother who were as an adopted family to him.

His literary archives “will be an inspiration to the multitudes of students and scholars who will use the papers and to the few writers who will prove themselves worthy to follow in his steps,” Gallup emphasized. His prediction has been proven true, with scores of scholars engaging with the Langston Hughes Papers each year in the Beinecke Library’s reading room, frequent use by Yale faculty for classroom visits, and countless readers around the world exploring Hughes life and work through the library’s digital library and through the myriad monographs and articles published from research done in the archives.

The Beinecke Library also features Hughes in many of its special exhibitions, which are always free and open to the public. His children’s garden in Harlem is one of the stories told in Happiness: The Writer in the Garden, on view in the spring and summer 2017, for example. Two special exhibitions in the 2016-2017 academic year – Destined to Be Known: The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at 75 and Gather Out of Star-Dust: The Harlem Renaissance and the Beinecke Library, both showcased Langston Hughes. In 2002, the library celebrated the centennial of his birth with the exhibition Langston Hughes at 100.

His career spanned five decades. Hughes wrote poetry, short stories, plays, newspaper columns, children's books, and pictorial histories. He also edited several volumes of prose and fiction by Afrcan-American and African writers. Through his writing and through his extensive travels and lecture tours he came into direct contact with an amazing array of writers, artists, activists, and performers. The Langston Hughes Papers at the Beinecke Library span the years 1862-1980.

To learn more about the papers, please consult the finding aid online here:


May 20, 2017


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